Tuesday, 24 May 2011

I'm Only Surprised It Took Them So Long

Well, it's finally happened.

Two of my freedom of info requests to NCC, this one and this one, have been refused on the basis that they are 'vexatious'.

It is claimed that, because I have made 22 requests in 12 months (I actually make it 19, 6 of which so far remain unanswered but we'll leave that for now) and write some of them up on this blog, my requests are 'obsessive' and are having the effect of 'harassing the authority'. They also claim that my requests are 'frequently' submitted simultaneously and often overlap.

This is of course nonsense. The 'obsessive' and harassment' claims are potentially libellous but as I'm not a premier league footballer I have to let that go. Harassment is a criminal offence and if NCC genuinely believed that I was harassing them I think I would have heard about it by now. They haven't even contacted me to dispute any of the claims on the blog, despite my invitation for them to do so if there was anything they felt was untrue.

It might be a coincidence but one of the above requests was a request for internal reports on the housing allocations scandal, something NCC is determined will never see the light of day. It's difficult to see any other exemption they could use to refuse to provide this info. Surely they aren't cynically using the 'vexatious' provisions to keep its dirty laundry out of the public eye? It would be a shame if anybody else had access to this info and were to send it on to me.

I have of course challenged their accusation via internal reviews. I suspect that, as well as the fact that I have written about it here, this will be used as further evidence of my obsessive and harassing behaviour but I'll just have to take my chances. Most of my posts are based on already available information anyway and it's better that the readers of this blog get to know about the lengths NCC will go to to cover things up.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Jumping the Gun

I suppose you can forgive their giddy enthusiasm but are Nottingham's inner circle of politicians getting a little ahead of themselves?

Full council meets today for the first time since the election. Early on in the agenda is the election of the leader who has the gift of appointments to the executive/portfolio holders in her/his power. Somewhat helpfully, JoCo has already written a report "...in the event that [he is] elected as Leader of the Council..." setting out who will be his chosen few. It's listed as a 'report from the Leader'. Even though he isn't the Leader yet. But he should be by the time the relevant agenda item comes up so I suppose that's alright then.

Mind you a couple of these prospective portfolio holders have also been making hay before the sun's even out of bed. Graham Chapman has already signed off three portfolio holder decisions, one of which involves expenditure of £270k, and 'Calamity' Jane Urquhart has done one. Surely, technically these can't be valid because the councillors concerned were not portfolio holders at the time of signing?

Friday, 20 May 2011

My Apologies...

...for lack of recent posts.

The truth is I just can't be arsed right now and there's not a huge amount going on what with the new council not yet settled in. But that will no doubt change and I'll be back soon.

If you have any stories that I've missed let me know.

Friday, 13 May 2011

The OTHER Vote

An intriguing question has arisen from the voting patterns in Nottingham.

As we know, Labour was overwhelmingly re-elected to power with something in the region of 60% of the votes cast. But strangely voters in Nottingham voted against the adoption of the AV system for national elections, with 63% of the vote going to the 'No' camp.

Isn't that a bit weird? The Labour Party appeared to be urging its supporters to vote 'yes' and yet in Nottingham it's in inescapable conclusion that a very large number of Labour voters said no, giving the Tories nationally a significant shot in the arm.

It could be explained by simple small 'c' conservatism, voting for Labour and No to AV is certainly sticking with what you know round here. Alternatively it could be part of the general 'kick the Lib Dems' trend that seems to have gripped the city, rather than the Labour leadership's call to kick the Tories instead. Any other theories, add them in the comments.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Nottingham Plays 'Pin the Red Rosette on the Donkey. Any Donkey'

Well it's pretty clear that nobody listens to me.

Whatever your views as to which party is best for Nottingham I defy you to argue convincingly that the virtual removal of all opposition to Labour on NCC is a good thing.

As you probably already know the Lib Dems have paid the ultimate price locally for their national leadership's hunger for power. Former Leader Gary Long has made no secret as to what he thinks the solution is, although he's apparently bottled out of repeating that on the national stage too knackered to do Newsnight. The loss of decent campaigning councillors like Tony Sutton and Alex Foster is a real source of regret and gives the impression that voters don't want to know about corruption in the council and will punish you by voting you out if you wake them from their slumbers.

There are still five Tories which means that Nottingham's golf courses continue to have their advocates in the city, although they will have to find a new leader as Andrew Price got his marching orders.

In my ward the odious former 'high class' (self defined) escort Cat Arnold kept her seat. My bet is that she'll be on the new Executive as she's been crawling up JoCo's arse for years. Mick Newton, who ran as an independent, didn't make it which I think is a shame. Again, a red rosette means more than a record of actually getting out into the community and doing your job it seems.

It has to be said that, despite some best efforts, the corruption issues haven't gone away. The District Auditor is set to report on alleged Future Jobs Fund dodginess, the Harold Tinworth affair is still ongoing (and hasn't he earned his money) and as Tony Sutton has a bit more time on his hands I suspect he won't let that go. I've got FoI requests regarding the funding cuts to CEHRNN and whatever went on between NCC and Nottingham Studios over Radford Unity Complex. These issues could be embarrassing for JoCo and his sidekick Chapman. Could there be resignations?

Addendum - nearly forgot, the NCC website has a rather impressive results information portal. It's only missing turnout figures so far (as a %) but the votes cast numbers indicate a much higher turnout than 2007.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A Further Snippett Concerning Hassan Ahmed Slips Out

You might remember that I have been trying to get as much info as possible about the Standards for England decision that Hassan Ahmed breached the members' code of conduct. I've had limited success, so far getting hold of a redacted report, and I've been trying to get as much material as possible unredacted via the Information Commissioner.

I have to say it is looking unlikely that I'll get any more of that report revealed but an email I've received has let a little more light on the internal NCC processed behind the scenes.

For example, information obtained under a SfE investigation cannot normally be released 'the person to whom the information relates has consented to its disclosure'. Now check out this extract from the email I received from the ICO -

"This is because none of the conditions set out in (a)-(e) are satisfied; in particular, Cllr Hassan has explicitly refused to consent to the report’s disclosure."

So, as you can see, one of the obstacles in seeing the full circumstances behind Hassan Ahmed's little games is the fact that he is exercising his veto over publication, an extraordinary privilege for him considering he was found guilty of the breach of the code. Clearly the system is designed to protect corrupt politicians whereas the little people are hung out to dry.

A more positive development is that NCC appear to have accepted that their tendency to hide stuff behind sch 12A of the Local Government Act 1972. That email again -

"The Council also acknowledges that section 12A of the LGA 1972 does not provide a statutory bar under section 44 of the Act."

If NCC sticks to that it is a significant boon for openness. NCC has been routinely relying on this as a route to an exemption to disclosure under s.44 of the FoIA which bans publication of information withheld under other legislation.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Some More of My Opinions on the Local Elections

If anybody should care here are some of the issues that I believe are important when deciding how to vote in the local elections on Thursday.

My first thought is that, before deciding HOW to vote, it's vital to first decide TO vote. Local elections are notorious for their low turnouts and this is a serious threat to true democracy. Turnout in 2007 was 32.4%, up from 29.1% in 2004, an improvement but still nowhere near a majority of those eligible to vote. And that increase is more than explained by the increase in postal votes which bring in their own problems.

I have to say it, voting for someone is nearly always better than not voting at all in my opinion. Nothing encourages complacency, self-interest and downright corruption in our elected representatives than them knowing that they are in a safe seat and not enough people care about their poor performance in order to bother voting against them. Whatever your political views I firmly believe that just turning up for each election and voting against the current incumbent will improve the health of democracy, at least it would keep them on their toes.

So, presuming that you have decided that you are going to vote, my next piece of advice would be to be sure to avoid voting on national issues at the expense of local. It's tempting to assume that they are one and the same and, while there is clearly overlap, it's not necessarily so. For example, I believe very strongly that the biggest local issue in Nottingham City is the out and out corruption and cover up within the Labour establishment at NCC (housing scandal etc, see the blog passim) and voting Labour to teach the coalition will not solve this. I'm not necessarily saying that Labour in local government is intrinsically bad, and I'm certainly not saying that I would never vote for a Labour politician again, it's just that the current Labour establishment consists of three groups; a small controlling core that has no respect for democracy and due process, a small group of lickspittles desperately trying to get into group one and lastly, a larger group of useful idiots/vote fodder who do as they are told regardless.

Again, I should emphasis that this is not a syndrome that is exclusive to the Labour Party, I firmly believe that if the Green Party won three elections in a row you'd end up with a very similar situation but with different colour hats. You'd probably find a lot of the same names as the politicos changed allegiance to the party that could deliver them into power. The important thing here is that when these cliques do establish themselves the important thing is to bring them down.

So for me at least I will not be looking to vote against the Lib Dems simply to punish them for selling their national souls to a poor-hating disablist right wing government. Locally they have been effective constituency representatives and sources of opposition, their effectiveness limited mainly by their numbers. The Tories are a little different of course, while they have taken on certain issues such as the Radford Unity Complex but I'm quite sure that was for cynical electoral reasons as they were targeting the Nottm South seat in the general election at the time. If a comment on Alanadale's blog from one of the candidates in Radford and Park ward is anything to go by they still see some mileage in this issue yet. In power, the Tories wouldn't give a shit about RUC but most importantly, everybody who's nice hates Tories anyway, that's just a fact.

So, to be a bit more prescriptive and specific, I've made no secret in the past that I strongly believe that a Green Party presence on NCC would be a good thing and if you are lucky enough to have a candidate in your ward I would urge you to vote for them. Those against Tesco on Eastside might want to look at Dave 'Lord Biro' Bishop in Dales ward too. In Basford, former Labour councillor Mick Newton is standing as an independent and seems to be good at getting stuck in to local issues so he will probably get one of my votes.

But in the end I suppose that it is pretty much inevitable that there will be a Labour majority in the end so what to do? My personal opinion is that a 'decapitation' strategy is the best bet i.e. get rid of those who are at the top of the dodgy clique. Luckily, we have already seen the last of Hassan Ahmed for a while so the priority is to get rid of JoCo and Graham Chapman. If you live in either St Anns or Aspley ward I implore you not to vote for these two even if you are a Labour supporter, their removal will result in an immeasurably improved local Labour Party I'm certain. We can but hope...

So that's what I think, see you at the ballot box.

More Info on Making the Lawyers Rich

There's been an interesting response to a Freedom of Info request posted up today, concerning the amount of money spent on external lawyers in employment cases. Remember this is on top of internal costs of their own lawyers involved with the cases.

Long story short, since 2003 NCC has spent between £29802 and £142448 per year between 2003 and 2009 (the 2010 figure probably isn't a full year) on external solicitors firms and barristers, averaging £65921 per year. In 2009, which was the year of my tribunal, they spent £72792. All costs include VAT.

The only solicitors firm named is Freeth Cartwright in Nottingham, something you might want to bear in mind if you've been fucked over by NCC and are looking for a solicitor. The barristers who I came up against, 7 Bedford Row Chambers, appear to have a fairly longstanding arrangement with NCC. I wonder how often these things go out to tender...?

Longstanding NCC watchers will remember that NCC claimed to have spent £100k on investigating the housing allocations scandal, saying this was a fortune and that further investigation was not justified. Yet that was the TOTAL cost spent and here they are routinely spending approximately two thirds of this amount each year on employment cases, in excess of their internal legal costs. So they're happy to shell out wads of cash on covering up workplace bullying yet investigating a massively important institutional corruption case only justifies peanuts. Good stuff.